- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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If they gave out awards for the first quarter of the NFL season, Coach of the Year would have to go to the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin. And not just because his team has played better than it should have. That's actually the terrible thing about Coach/Manager of the Year awards -- that they always go to the guy whose team everybody thought would stink but didn't. Coach of the Year should go to a coach whose particular style and abilities had an obvious impact on the team's success, and so far this year, Coughlin is that coach.
Coughlin's style is, as you may have heard from Plaxico Burress and others, old school. He's a no-nonsense 65-year-old grouch who doesn't have patience for the kind of coddling to which a lot of modern pro athletes are accustomed. Coughlin believes in accountability and responsibility and doing your job instead of feeling sorry for yourself. And so, given the cascade of injuries and other issues that have rained down on the heads of the Giants since the lockout ended, there may be no coach in the league better equipped to lead them.
"I think we've paid particular attention to the player that was injured, and I felt very badly for that player and for the way he had worked, and then we moved on from there," Coughlin said Wednesday on a conference call when Seattle reporters asked him how he'd handled all of the season-ending injuries the Giants have had already. "I think the players all basically felt the same -- that we have to keep pushing and people have to play better and try to overcome whatever it is that our problems were."
And there have been plenty. Don't kid yourself thinking Coughlin was thrilled that the Giants watched key players leave in free agency while the Eagles signed everyone in sight and his contract was extended for only one more year. Don't believe for a second that he heard the torn ACL news on Terrell Thomas and Jonathan Goff and didn't think those losses would hurt. Don't think he wouldn't rather have had Osi Umenyiora and Prince Amukamara healthy and playing for him since the season started. Coughlin isn't blind to the adversity his team is facing. He'd much rather everything had gone smoothly since training camp started, that they'd signed every player he wanted and that no one had got hurt.
But Coughlin's "tough, old coach" demeanor is genuine, and because of that it (a) helps him avoid wallowing in his troubles and (b) rings true in the locker room. The players know he's not just up there making hollow speeches about the Next Man Up and not feeling sorry for themselves, because they know he really believes it. He's made it clear to all of them since the day they walked through the door that they're responsible for handling their own business and problems and assignments, that no one else is going to take care of it for them and that if they don't, there will be consequences. Yeah, he benched Aaron Ross in the Rams game even though he had no one to back him up, because Ross deserved it and that's the way things are done around Coughlin's Giants.
"Injuries come and go and other issues come and go and there are things you can't do anything about, so it doesn't make sense to worry about them and get down about them," linebacker Michael Boley said. "He's pretty good at getting that message across and letting guys know, 'All right, that talk's over with, and now it's time to work.'"
A team isn't going to sit around feeling sorry for itself when its head coach has made it clear time and again what an unacceptable sentiment that is. People who think that Coughlin's time as a head coach has run its course, or that he should be held accountable for the way the team has played down the stretch the past couple of years, need to look at the way he manages the locker room in times like these, and in the most heavily scrutinized market in the league. There are plenty of teams that would have been crushed by what's happened to the Giants so far, but partly thanks to the leadership style of their coach, these Giants haven't been. Tom Coughlin knows -- and constantly makes sure his players know -- that no matter what the world throws at you, the best way to handle it is to get up the next morning and go to work. That attitude, and Coughlin's ability to instill it in the men who play for him, is a huge part of the reason these Giants are 3-1.